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Boosting key protein in brain could improve seizure treatment, Stanford study finds

STANFORD, Calif. - A naturally occurring protein in our brains could be the basis for a more promising epilepsy treatment - without the nasty side effects caused by many of the current medications.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine discovered that the drug valproic acid boosts the amount of the protein neuropeptide Y in the brain by about 50 percent. What's more, they found that the drug increased the protein in only two parts of the brain - the thalamus and hippocampus, areas associated respectively with petit mal and temporal lobe epileptic seizures. The neuropeptide Y levels in other parts of the brain were unaffected. "That was quite a surprise," said Julia Brill, a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford's neurology department who worked on the study.

VPA has long been a mainstay in treating epilepsy, although how it suppressed seizures was a mystery. It has a minimal sedative effect, but a host of other unpleasant side effects including weight gain, hair loss, upset stomach and liver problems, as well as causing birth defects if taken by pregnant women, so it's less than an ideal medication.

But discovering that VPA triggers an increase in neuropeptide Y not only helps explain how VPA works, it suggests a possible way to stimulate the brain to quell seizures: The key could be to increase the amount of this anti-epileptic compound in the brain. Neuropeptides are very small proteins that often help transmit signals between neurons, the specialized cells in the brain that generate and transmit thought.

"This finding really emphasizes that our brains have the inherent capacity to stop seizures," said John Huguenard, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and senior author of a paper describing the work published in June in the Journal of Neuroscience, on which Brill is first author. Although there may be more than one mechanism by which our brains stop seizures, an increase in neu
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
15-Aug-2006


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